If you google “kids friendly Thanksgiving dinner” the search bring just over 36 million results with a variety of ideas. Some suggestions are reasonable ways to simplify the meal with fewer ingredients and less spice while other suggest going straight to peanut butter jelly sandwiches cut in turkey shapes. As you probably already know, I have a problem with kids menus. Not only most of them are nutritional garbage, they also take away opportunities to expose our children to more challenging foods. As a result, instead of moving steadily through picky eating phase, some kids get stuck in it for many years.
Thanksgiving can be a wonderful, healthy and nutritious meal (see some recipes here) and a great opportunity to create life-long memories together with you kids. It is also a perfect chance to practice the Division of Responsibility in feeding and teach your children about eating traditions, table manners and enjoyment of food. The Division of Responsibility rule encourages parents to choose what, when and where to serve while kids are to decide how much and whether to eat.
So how can the turkey day become a lesson in this evidence-based feeding strategy?
1. The traditional Thanksgiving dinner is a self-serve family style meal. This makes a perfect setting for practicing the Division of Responsibility. Not like pre portioned meals, family style method encourages self-regulation when kids can practice listening to the body to gauge how full or hungry they are. The ability to self-regulate the amount of food we need to eat is a great tool for adults, too! Read Can we trust our children’s appetites? and Intuitive eating 101.
2. Thanksgiving meal is about enjoying the family and friends and being thankful for what we have. What a great concept to bear in mind as your family sits down to meals throughout the year! Whining and complaining about anything including the food is very far from the spirit of Thanksgiving. Being grateful for the food they have in front of them and the family they are surrounded by can help kids become less fussy eaters.
3. Thanksgiving meal celebrates food and eating. And it does not mean that everything served that day has to taste decadent and be covered in butter. In fact, Thanksgiving menu of the first settlers was a very healthy, simple but very delicious meal and thoroughly enjoyed meal, bursting with flavors and colors of seasonal produce. Shifting the focus from calories and the number of bites of broccoli to enjoying the food is a way to teach children about healthy relationship with food for the rest of their lives.
4. Everyone is in a good mood during Thanksgiving meal. Research shows that positive atmosphere during meals helps kids eat better while negative comments, scolding and tension makes kids eat worse. Sharing a conversation, having a laugh and, above all, enjoying your kids can become the focus of your family meals for the rest of the year.
5. Thaksgiving meal is festive. No one will want to spoil the occasion by pressuring little Carol to take a bite of Brussels sprouts. While exposing kids to new foods helps them learn to like them, pressuring to taste them often results in the opposite. Remember that your job is to limit snacking, serve the food at set times and create pleasant environment around eating. Your kids will do a great job exploring new foods when they frequently see you enjoying them but feel no pressure to eat them.
This Thanksgiving, invite your kids to join you at the table. Let them explore the bounty of the seasonal produce and practice appreciating the combination of simple and complex flavors. Remember to relax and enjoy our own meal instead of watching what and how much they are eating. Happy Thanksgiving!